Small Scale Mining: Environmental Destruction at Its Wake
Small-scale mining for valuable minerals has been a desirable venture for many people for centuries. Instant rewards could be had for a relatively minimal investment of time, digging implements plus a little knowledge about where to find the precious minerals like gold or diamonds. A lucky hit could immediately change the small scale miner’s way of life and uplift his living conditions.
Environmental Destruction due to Small-Scale Mineral Mining
The environmental destruction that small-scale mining for valuable minerals brings with it, however, can affect a lot of people who depend on natural resources for survival. Open pit and trenches as a result of small-scale mining can get forests logged over thereby exposing the loose earth and cause massive flooding due to the absence of trees to block heavy rainfall. Runoff from small-scale mining areas carries heavy sediments that get deposited in the shallow river delta, the point where the river meets the sea.
Acid Rock Drainage
Aside from siltation caused by small-scale mining, water contact with acid sulfide rocks can cause acid rock drainage. Although acid rock drainage is part of the natural weathering process, this is exacerbated by large scale disturbances that accrue due to continuous small-scale mining activities. Acid rock drainage can be highly acidic which can upset the surrounding ecosystem balance of places where small-scale mining activities occur. Aquatic organisms get killed and the food web changes significantly. Fishes and other aquatic life decline in abundance. This could cause people dependent on the rivers for day-to-day survival to abandon their livelihood resulting to less food available to the community. Less food available will cause malnutrition and worsen poverty in the rural areas. Environmental destruction due to small-scale mining has dire environmental and economic consequences to natural resource dependent communities.
Small-scale Mining for Gold in Magara
Such is the case of the small-scale mining for gold ventures of the people of Magara in Roxas municipality, a town located north of Palawan island in western Philippines. Small-scale miners have been digging randomly in the uplands, leaving behind a network of deep pits and trenches that cause the once clear waters of the nearby rivers to turn murky. Aquatic life is suffocated and the aesthetic value of the landscape was diminished.
Network of pits and trenches due to small-scale mining (Photo credit: R. Fuentes)
Destroyed Fishing and Tourism Livelihoods
The coastal villagers of Caramay, a community of fisherfolk downstream, complain that the increased flow rate due to small-scale mining in the uplands and the poor water quality in the river destroyed their fishing and tourism livelihoods. Once, there was a significant increase in fish production as a result of the community's vigilant advocacy to conserve their coral reefs and mangroves for many years. Also, tourism in the coastal village was picking up until flooding in the recent years destroyed their dreams. Fish culture cages which used to cater to tourists wanting to taste the local fish produce were destroyed by the surging waters. Tourists no longer visit their once paradisiacal waters ideal for swimming and kayaking as well as sport fishing. All these benefits were gone due to flooding and heavy siltation attributed to rampant and uncontrolled small-scale mining in the uplands.
How Policy and the Way It is Implemented Can Change Lives
The case of Magara and Caramay in the municipality of Roxas exemplifies how policy and the way it is implemented can affect people’s lives. Small-scale mining in the Philippines was encouraged by virtue of the Mining Act of 1995 in order to help uplift the living conditions of the people by harnessing the valuable minerals of the earth. Another law, the Strategic Environmental Plan for Palawan implemented since 1992 advocates sustainable development with natural resource management as its core principle. Resource management inculcates wise use of resources towards sustainable development. Both of these laws incorporate economic benefits, the mining law in the short-term since it is extractive in nature and the other emphasizing eco-tourism in the long-term.
Current dilemma appears to be which specific direction decision makers should go. Would they support the short-term, high benefits of mining or the long-term slowly accumulating benefits of eco-tourism? Time will tell.
© Patrick Regoniel 7 August 2010